Rachel Griffiths (Oscar nominee for Hilary & Jackie) plays Pamela Drury, a harried 30-something magazine writer who wonders if she made a mistake, 13 years earlier, when she turned down a marriage proposal from Robert (David Roberts). She gets a chance to find out when she is hit by a car driven by none other than herself, the Pamela who married Robert and who is now living in the suburbs with husband, three children, and a dog.
The second Pamela disappears, leaving Pamela One to cope with assorted domestic crises. At first, in a daze, she lets the kids eat pizzas in front of the television, and she is so used to shopping for one that she forgets to take food for them at the grocery store. But she loves being with Robert, and begins to warm to family life. She teaches the baby to wipe his own bottom and the older boy to stop calling her “dumbhead.” She finds herself responding to her daughter’s first period the same way her mother responded to hers. She is disconcerted to find that the married Pamela is also a magazine writer, but of women’s magazine drivel like “ten ways to keep your marriage alive.”
Things are more complicated than she thought. As Pamela One, she met an attractive and sympathetic teacher named Ben (Sandy Winton), who tells her he once thought of being a journalist, and who dashes her hopes of romance when she sees him with a wife and children. As Pamela Two, she meets him in his other incarnation, now a single journalist who never got over the death of his first love.
Things get pretty much sorted out by the end. As in “Groundhog Day” or “It’s a Wonderful Life,” the main character gets a different perspective on his/her life, and gets a second chance to make it work. But this situation has some special poignance because it relates to the central conflict of many women’s lives — and many men’s, too — the balance between work and family. Pamela’s struggle, as Pam Two, to make her writing assignment into something meaningful about the modern woman, is a metaphor for her experience. So is her Pam Two nightie, with “Tic Toc Tic” on the front.
What Pam learns from experiencing her “what if” helps to turn her from someone who recites affirmations to herself every morning to someone who truly learns to value herself enough to connect to someone else.
The movie opens with young girls telling us their dreams — fashion designer, supermodel, wife and mother. Pam asks her own daughter (well, Pam Two’s daughter) about her dreams, but she is content for the moment to be open to everything.
Parents should know that the movie contains strong language, sexual references, including adultery, and sexual situations, including a comic encounter with a diaphragm. Characters smoke and drink, including use of alcohol to soothe anxiety, loneliness, and fear. One character attempts suicide.
Families whose teenagers see this movie should talk about how we make decisions and handle the consequences, and how any meaningful achievement at home or work requires sacrifices in other areas. They may also want to discuss why the youngest child is the only one who can tell the difference between the two Pams — is he the only one who really looks at her? — and how couples handle the challenges of long-term relationships.
Families who enjoy this movie will also like Sliding Doors with Gwyneth Paltrow and Groundhog Day with Bill Murray.